Vanishing hitchhikers are one of the most widespread and commonly reported urban legends in the US, a phenomenon which gained notoriety as the title-story in Jan Brunvand’s The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and their Meanings (1981). Puzzle Box Horror’s Scariest Urban Legends series continue with The Phantom Hitchhiker of Black Horse Lake.
The Vanishing Hitchhiker Legends
There are two primary manifestations of the vanishing hitchhiker legend, the first being particularly famous around Britain and the US. So it goes; Someone is driving home at night when they spot a young girl hitching from the roadside. She sits in the back and, at some point in the journey, mysteriously disappears. Having been given her address, the driver goes there anyway, where he learns that the girl died in a car crash years before. In some renditions of the story the driver then visits the graveyard where she is buried, only to find a jacket hung over her gravestone. In the story’s other depiction, one rarely heard around the UK, the hitchhiker is a male, supernatural being. He tells of some great misfortune or disaster that will befall the earth before disappearing into the night. So the legend says, all of the entity’s predictions come true, leading drivers to believe they witnessed an angel or even Jesus Christ himself.
Hitchhiking at its core is inherently scary for both parties involved; both hitchhiker and driver are at equal risk during the age-old favour and neither usually knows quite who they’re sitting next to, at least at first. This fear has been milked throughout the ages in horror cinema and literature, most notably in the Rutger Hauer road-horror classic, The Hitcher (1986).
Black Horse Lake
Great Falls in Cascade County, a county named for the falls on the Missouri River, is the third-largest city in Montana. Just outside Great Falls sits the seasonal Black Horse Lake, which only sees water during the spring and early summer. If you’re driving down a stretch of road adjacent to the lake, just off highway 87, toward Fort Benton, you might be unlucky enough to encounter a very different kind of phantom hitchhiker.
Phantom Hitchhiker of Black Horse Lake
Reports tell of a tall Native American man with long black hair, inconspicuously hitching a ride. Some claim to spot him in bib overalls, others say he dons a denim jacket and jeans. However, when drivers get close enough to the figure he suddenly appears in front of the car, rolling onto the windscreen with a deathly thud. Many people react in the obvious manner, screeching to a halt and getting out to check the poor fellow is okay. Of course, in true spectral fashion, the man is nowhere to be seen, and the car is always without a scratch. This is both a positive and a negative, as though no physical damage has been dealt, the driver must now continue their lives with no proof to themselves or others that they really witnessed what they think they did. With no proof, the whole ordeal can easily be passed off as a trick of the overactive imagination, though this particular phenomenon has occurred so frequently and with such similarity that it has cemented itself in the annals of international urban legends forever.
Many believe that this is the ghost of a transient Native American who’s nomadic lifestyle was violently interrupted one night by a passing car that struck him. Many renditions of the tale say that the man is forced to relive his last brutal moments on earth in a Palm Springs-esque infinite loop, conjuring an even greater horror to the nightmare.
Joe first knew he wanted to write in year six after plaguing his teacher’s dreams with a harrowing story of World War prisoners and an insidious ‘book of the dead’. Clearly infatuated with horror, and wearing his influences on his sleeve, he dabbled in some smaller pieces before starting work on his condensed sci-fi epic, System Reset in 2013.Once this was published he began work on many smaller horror stories and poems in bid to harness and connect with his own fears and passions and build on his craft.
Joe is obsessed with atmosphere and aesthetic, big concepts and even bigger senses of scale, feeding on cosmic horror of the deep sea and vastness of space and the emotions these can invoke. His main fixes within the dark arts include horror films, extreme metal music and the bleakest of poetry and science fiction literature.
He holds a deep respect for plot, creative flow and the context of art, and hopes to forge deeper connections between them around filmmakers dabbling in the dark and macabre.